Since its inception in 2009, charity organization Sun Life Foundation, which provides aid to babies born with hydrocephalus in Honduras, has saved over 400 lives. City News catches up with its international liaison officer, Troy Marshall for the whole story.
When friends brought Troy Marshall to a run-down hospital in Honduras in 2009, he could not walk away from what he saw—babies with grotesquely swollen heads, suffering from hydrocephalus.
“When I saw the magnitude of the problem—I’m not gonna lie—it overwhelmed me, he tells City News. “I had no medical experience or background. I have a junior college degree. When we visited that place, it was falling apart literally.”
Hydrocephalus is a congenital condition in which fluid accumulates in the brain, leading to the progressive enlargement of the head as well as certain death in less than two months if left untreated.
It wasn’t that nobody else had ever visited that place or that no one was aware of the problem. It was just too large a problem to deal with. “But for some reason, we had faith for this. We only had USD800 in our ministry accounts, and we didn’t even have money to meet our payroll. So we bought eight shunts (small devices to drain fluid from the brain),” says Marshall, an ordained minister and humanitarian who was already involved with relief work in developing nations through the Global Relief International charity group.
It was a small start, but it was a start. When he spoke to Sun Ho, co-founder of City Harvest Church, she immediately agreed to help by purchasing shunts in bulk. Given her persona as a pop artist, her involvement attracted a considerable amount of media coverage, especially considering that the nation had undergone no small amount of turmoil with a political coup that very year, beyond its endemic poverty. “There were no foreign dignitaries coming, no one coming. It was a boost to them that people still believed enough to help,” says Marshall.
And that was how Sun Life Foundation was birthed. To date, the Foundation has saved 438 lives, says Marshall, who recently addressed CHC’s School Of Theology students in a chapel session.
While the provision of quality shunts, trained surgeons and proper medical care greatly help in treating the young patients, the impact SLF has created, however, has widened to prevention instead of just curative efforts.
One of the biggest breakthroughs was the mandating of a 30-second public service announcement screened in cinemas before movies. Produced by Sun Life, the video clip educated the public on proper prenatal nutrition—especially the consumption of green leafy vegetables for folic acid, the lack of which is the chief cause of hydrocephalus.
“That PSA alone has helped to lower the rate of hydrocephalus cases significantly. Before we started Sun Life, the national statistics was that hydrocephalus affected one in every four births.” This ratio has been estimated to have halved. At the moment, 100 to 120 shunt operations are conducted per year. Each shunt costs USD100.
“God wasn’t just going to miraculously start saving kids. We had to do what we knew to do. The rest of it that lies between us and the breakthrough we need, that is the margin of miracles,” explains Marshall, who travels to organizations such as churches, private foundations and corporate institutions to raise funds, recruit donors and increase awareness in his role as SLF’s international liaison officer.
And miracles there have been plenty, with partnerships and donations secured one by one. Connections were being made. Unnecessary red tape was circumvented to get help where it was needed most critically. High quality shunts were obtained at discounted prices from a leading medical supplies firm, and charities came aboard with donations of much-needed necessities.
“Now, every single baby born in the hospital goes home with a brand new blanket, sanitary wipes and vitamin drops,” says Marshall. It does not sound like a big deal until you consider what used to be—in his initial visits to the hospital, he noticed people walking out with what he thought were bundles of newspaper. He then found out that mothers were swaddling their newborns in newspaper because the hospital was too poor to furnish them with any blankets.
About two months ago, SLF was entrusted by the government with the management and operation of the neo-natal ward at the same hospital it has been working with for the past four years. This immense breakthrough will allow for more holistic improvement of administration and healthcare standards, from procurement of equipment to training and staffing of healthcare providers.
“Because our doctors and staff are well-educated, the failure rate (which mostly stems from incorrect insertion of shunts or defective shunts) has dropped from 60 percent to 20 percent.”
A lot of work is still done from scratch, such as the construction of proper washroom amenities, dissemination of disposable smocks to new mothers to minimize infections, and the ongoing building of relationships with the next generation of medical caregivers in the country.
“One time we gave out hairbrushes to our nurses. We were shocked at how big an impact that made, you’d have thought we were giving out diamond rings,” laughs Marshall. “They don’t get paid very well or often, so whatever we can do to help keep the morale up, because a lot of it is them working after-hours.”
As far as revenue and impact are concerned, Sun Life Foundation is the largest contributor after the Honduras Cancer Society; it also counts the Honduran president’s wife as its official patron. This success, stemming from the trust and favor SLF has enjoyed with the government authorities and partner organizations is something Marshall credits to walking in God’s will.
“Not every problem I see—and I travel to 60 nations—I get involved with. I may not have the resources, the burden for it or the grace to make a difference. But you know when it’s something from God, you just cannot walk away from it,” he explains.
As SLF continues to do what it does, hydrocephalus may just well be a thing of the past one day, and this is what the Cultural Mandate is all about—going out of the church and into the society to bring about sustained transformation for good.